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You probably don’t think twice about the safety of your microwave because it’s so efficient. You may even get excited on the drive home from work knowing there are leftovers in the fridge. Why? Because dinner will be done in about a minute!
Microwaves cook by using radio waves to agitate water molecules in your food. The agitated water molecules generate the heat that cooks the food. But something that cooks our favorite meals so quickly couldn’t possibly have any drawbacks. Or could it?
Here’s how the microwave compares to other cooking methods and few tips for using it well.
Microwave cooking does not reduce the nutritional value of foods any more than conventional cooking. Some nutrients (and micronutrients) will break down when they're exposed to heat. But because microwave cooking times are shorter, it’s not a big issue.
In fact, foods cooked in a microwave oven may keep more of their vitamins and minerals.
But it doesn’t stop at carrots. If you’re the kind of person who likes cooked vegetables, throwing them in the microwave is a good way to warm them up.
That’s because foods that are high in water content, like fresh vegetables, can be cooked more quickly than other foods— without losing nutritional value.
According to a study published in the journal “Food and Chemical Toxicology”; griddling, microwave cooking, and baking produce the lowest antioxidant losses among vegetables. And it doesn’t take quite as long to microwave vegetables—only 3 to 5 minutes. Baking them will take 25-30 minutes and you’ll have to give them about 15 minutes on the grill.
You can also add a couple of tablespoons of water to your vegetables, before you put them in the microwave, to aid the cooking process.
And keep this in mind, there are some vegetables that you shouldn’t eat raw because you can get more nutritional value depending on how you prepare them. Steaming them, or roasting them, may be better options.
If you’re wondering about boiling, it’s not your best friend when it comes to preparing vegetables. Boiling vegetables robs them of some of their nutritional value because the nutrients leach out into the cooking water. Plus, it takes much longer. Figure about 20-25 minutes to boil your vegetables.
Meats cook much faster in the microwave. Some better than others, but with minimal risk.
It’s best to cook tender meats like ground beef and poultry on high power. Use medium power for large cuts of meat and cook them for longer periods. This allows heat to reach the center without overcooking outer areas.
For that reason, the USDA recommends using a food thermometer. It will tell you if your meat is evenly cooked. Their researchers also recommend deboning large pieces of meat because bone can shield meat from thorough cooking.
And just like other cooking methods, microwaves destroy bacteria that cause foodborne illnesses.
The Food and Drug Administration has been regulating microwaves since 1971. The agency assures us the food we cook in them is safe.
Many studies show grilling often creates the highest amount of carcinogens in foods — not microwaves. The National Cancer Institute even refers to a number of studies that tie eating well-done, fried, or barbecued meats to an increased risk of colorectal, pancreatic, and prostate cancers.
But what’s good for your food is not good for us. The American Cancer Society wants to remind you that the farther you stand from a microwave, the less radiation you're exposed to. Federal standards also limit the amount of radiation that can leak from a microwave oven. The level is not harmful, but wear and tear can damage the door’s seal.
Thank goodness an electronics genius named Percy L. Spencer had a candy bar in his pocket when he accidentally discovered a way to use microwaves to heat food. Microwave cooking is a safe technology that does not “nuke” nutrition.
If you’re looking for more ways to eat healthy, especially with a busy schedule, download our free guide “5 Steps to Healthy Eating.”